There are many things for which I’m thankful this year. Chief among them is the health of our son, who’s been growing well in utero and whom we’re expecting at the end of this month. After that is our health, our family, our parish community, and all of our great friends.
While my thankfulness for all of these things is more important than anything else I have to write, I still feel compelled to bring up some bigger, broader reasons to feel thankful in this year. Spoiler alert: we’re returning to politics in full form for this post.
It was only last year when I realized the magnitude of the error that I had made in thinking that news wasn’t worth money. Why pay when so much news was available online for free? My whole generation missed that memo, and we were so wrong.
Real journalism, i.e. following leads, doing interviews, getting the facts, and reporting them in the face of power, are more important than they’ve ever been. You are not entitled to your own facts, nor even to your own uninformed opinions. You’re entitled only to be informed, and the press provides that. Hypocrisy, cynicism, corruption, and outright criminality happen in the halls of power, as do acts of honest nobility. The press is how you know of all of this.
There have been real problems with the media. The obsession with ratings and advertising dollars has led to sensationalism and a tendency to treat everything as spectacle rather than with the gravity that situations deserve. This led many in our country to feel that a qualified, experienced candidate with a policy idea for every issue was no different from a C-minus racist wannabe autocrat with no understanding of policy at all. That said, the Washington Post’s tagline is true – democracy dies in darkness. No matter how imperfect or dim the light.
It’s journalism, in fact, that produced the next thing that I’m thankful for.
I went to a birthing class recently. While I know what happens during birth, seeing a recording of it caused me to immediately think one clear thought; how can our society possibly tolerate treat women the way that we do, when they do so much?
I can’t even begin to scratch the surface of this topic, but it’s a watershed moment for our society. While it might sting to see popular or beloved figures be punished for their treatment of women, it’s necessary for our growth that victims continue to speak out. It pains me to see how widespread the harassment has been, but it’s vital that I feel that pain. As a man, I have had the privilege of nearly never having to confront it or bear witness to it. If women can endure harassment for years on end with no consequence for their harassers, I can assuredly deal with the discomfort of knowing how many men are tainted by this behavior.
For the 2016 Election
Not because 45 is a good President or a good person. He’s neither of those things.
The fact is, though, I can’t say that either of the above two things would have happened if Donald Trump hadn’t been elected President (well, “elected”). We’re confronted with the fact that the election of a rapacious charlatan who is dangerously unfit for office seems to have provided the spark that our society needed to look up and say “enough”. Would women have marched on Washington in January? Would so many powerful men, abusing women in the shadows, have been cast down from power? Would so many women, minorities, and young people be running for office? Would journalism have recovered that sense of vitality that it had lost?
This is why I’m thankful for last year’s election. The unimaginable destruction being wrought on our institutions and norms will have to be the sacrifice that pays for the awakening happening amongst many everyday Americans. A friend asked me recently if I thought it likely that America could slide into a fascist dictatorship. I said no purely due to these positive signs that I see. I’m reminded of a protest in New York in 2011 following a production of Philip Glass’s opera Satyagraha, at which the composer himself read out the libretto’s closing lines:
When righteousness withers away
and evil rules the land,
we come into being,
age after age,
and take visible shape,
and move, a man among men,
for the protection of good,
thrusting back evil
and setting virtue on her seat again.
No rest for the wicked.